The following is the first in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each week until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Catchers.LOS ANGELES -- General manager Ned Colletti said other clubs provide valuable scouting intelligence based on the players they ask for in trade talks with the Dodgers. But they don't even bother to ask for Russell Martin anymore, because they know he's as untouchable as any Dodger on the roster. Martin turns 25 when Spring Training opens and he hasn't even completed two full seasons in the Major Leagues, but he's a fixture on the current roster, coming off a season in which he was recognized in all facets of the game. The Canada native was voted his first Gold Glove as the best defensive catcher in the National League and his first Silver Slugger as the best offensive catcher in the league, and he already had made his first start in the All-Star Game, becoming the third Dodgers All-Star catcher in the last 15 years (Mike Piazza and Paul Lo Duca were the others). He won the club's Roy Campanella Award as the most inspirational Dodger, the Heart & Hustle Award from the MLB Players Alumni Association and was the club's nominee for the Hank Aaron Award. Martin led league catchers in hits (157), homers (19), runs (87), stolen bases (21), average (.297), on-base percentage (.380) and slugging percentage (.477). The 21 steals were the most ever for a Dodgers catcher. He was particularly effective against left-handed pitching, batting .357. He was a workhorse, leading Major League catchers with 145 games played and 1,254 innings caught. His catcher's ERA of 3.95 was fourth in the league. He threw out 30 percent of potential basestealers, up from 26 percent in his rookie season. The Dodgers were 78-65 when Martin started at catcher and 4-15 when either Mike Lieberthal or Chad Moeller caught. Martin has done this only five seasons after being shifted from third base at the suggestion of area scout Clarence Johns, who drafted him in the 17th round, and with instruction from Jon Debus, the former roving instructor who left the organization to join former farm director Terry Collins in Japan. "When you change positions, you expect it to be a long process, but I had good coaches in that first instructional league," said Martin. "We worked very hard every day. I had caught a few times in college, so it didn't take very long to learn the position. But I feel pretty comfortable with my development. I used to love to play the infield. It was my favorite thing, winding up and throwing bullets from third to first. But now I like everything about catching. It's tougher, and I thought that even when I played third."
Los Angeles Dodgers
One concern about Martin is his enthusiasm for playing, which prompted former manager Grady Little to start Martin almost every game, even when he was quietly nursing the nagging injuries that catchers often suffer. As the second half of the season wore on, Martin appeared to wear down some. He hit .306 with 60 RBIs before the All-Star break, but only .275 with 27 RBIs after the break.Lieberthal has been replaced as Martin's backup by Gary Bennett, who has been more of a platoon starter during his career than the spectator that Lieberthal became in 2007, when he played only 38 games with 77 at-bats and hit .234. Bennett's 155 at-bats with St. Louis last year were his lowest total since 2001. The Dodgers also have signed journeymen Danny Ardoin and Rene Rivera to Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League training camp. Ardoin last played in the Major Leagues in 2006 and is considered a strong defensive receiver. Rivera, a former second-round Draft pick by Seattle, also last played in the Major Leagues in 2006. Lucas May, converted to catcher in 2007, was added to the Major League roster, although he played only in Class A last year and will likely advance to Double-A in 2008.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.